Sitting in Helen Stewart's office is an urn containing the ashes of Pepper.
She was working at Coles in 1979 when one of her workmates offered her a foxie-cross puppy and she jumped at the chance.
Animals had been a constant presence as she grew up in Warrawong.
She would often come home with stray dogs or sneak downstairs late at night to fetch the dog and smuggle her to bed.
Pepper lived for 16 years, dying only after contracting Alzheimer's, but her ashes have been a constant companion since the dog died in 1995.
The remains are likely to be with Stewart for a very long time.
"My husband has said that if I pass over before him, he wants her ashes with him," Stewart says.
"I have said the same to him. She was part of a very special part of our life - she was the first dog after we were married."
Anyone who has kept half an eye on local news over the past few years will know that Stewart, a Shellharbour councillor, was embroiled in a legal battle with the council that ended up costing her nearly $100,000 in legal fees.
"I still see a counsellor and I thank her very much because if I hadn't been seeing her I don't know whether I'd be here, that's how bad it got," Stewart said last year.
Shortly after the court case finished, she lost her stepmother and her father. They were dark times indeed.
What she didn't say, was that - apart from her husband Ric - she owes her sanity, and quite possibly her life, to her dogs, Molly and Keira.
"I doubt very much if I would be here without my animals," Stewart says.
"Going through that court case, something would come over to me, I would have the two dogs on the bed and I would have a good howl.
"They were there for me every step of the way and there were many people who were not."
Most people who own a dog know that Stewart is right when she says that they love you unconditionally.
"They don't want anything from you, they don't expect anything from you, but they are always there for you," she says.
"A pat on the head and a good feed is all they need."
Before the court case, Stewart started spreading the love by taking one of her dogs, Molly, to visit dying patients in Port Kembla Hospital.
It was a powerful experience.
"We just walked into palliative care and Molly went into this mode where she knew she had to be very quiet, very still and very gentle," Stewart says.
"If the patient indicated, I would put Molly up on the bed and sometimes the patient would just start crying.
"It would break my heart."
While Molly performed only a relatively brief, and largely unofficial, role as hospital visitor before the court case swept all before it, there are other dogs that can only be classed as professionals.
Vet Paul Partland, a partner at Cannon and Ball in Wollongong, owns a springer spaniel that was born to help research into a human brain disease.
"He was part of a colony maintained at a hospital for investigation of the disease," Partland says.
"It goes as far as taking blood to map the dog's genome so they could understand better the human genome."
When it was discovered that his dog carried the disease but displayed no symptoms, he was no longer needed for the program and given away as a pet.
One of his former patients, though, was a wide-eyed pug named Popeye whose work earned him fame as the darling of sick children and a media tart who counted celebrities as his friends.
Popeye died in October 2011 after more than a decade visiting patients at Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick, but his owner is hoping his legacy will endure.
It was Popeye that the children wanted to join them in a photograph rather than Nicole Kidman.
It was Popeye that would lie still next to children too sick to move, giving comfort for up to an hour at a time.
It was Popeye that gave up his Christmas morning to tour the wards of Sydney Children's Hospital with the Wiggles.
It was Popeye that was summoned to a child's bedside after she confided that her dying wish was to be with her friend one last time.
Popeye might be gone but owner Cherie Fyson - who divides her time between a Wollongong unit and a home in Sydney - hopes that his legacy will live on through her new pug, Bro.
Like Popeye, he will first need to pass tests set by the Delta Society, a charity whose motto is: "The human-animal bond can overcome anything."
The charity welcomes doggie volunteers (and their owners) but puts the animals through a stringent two-part test before they are approved for work in hospitals, aged care homes and with children.
First they are tested for obedience - sit, drop, stay and come - and must wait while their owner leaves the room for three minutes.
Next they have a temperament test that includes rough petting, yelling, screaming, kicking (in a gentle, loving way) and anything else that might break their calm.
If they pass, they're in.
"You walk in there and say, 'Would you like to pat the puppy?"' Fyson says.
"The puppy can do tricks, it can shake hands and turn circles. You let them give the puppy treats.
"One little girl was completely paralysed from an accident so I used to put treats between her fingers and Popeye would lick them out.
"She used to roar with laughter - even though she couldn't do anything, and had a tracheotomy."
Perhaps Popeye's finest hour was when he was invited to lie beside a teenage boy called David, who was so sick with multiple diseases that he didn't move.
Fyson placed Popeye on the bed and put David's hand on his fur and - miracle! - his little finger moved.
The visits continued for over a year as David continued to improve until one day he was moved to the oncology ward, where dogs were not allowed.
Somehow Fyson persuaded the nurse unit manager to bend the rules and the next week she and Popeye were greeted with a standing ovation from staff.
"The nurse said that David was so deeply depressed that he had given up his will and they only gave him a short time to live," Fyson says.
"After he saw Popeye, he perked up again so it works.
"They said the whole ward was open to dogs now."
Stories of inspirational dogs like Popeye and Molly are not hard to find.
Dozens can be found in The Divinity of Dogs, a book just published by West Australian author Jennifer Skiff.
"Dogs may be the purest example of divine love in an earthly soul many of us ever experience," Skiff wrote. ■